Rest in Pieces: 10 Transportation Graveyards

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NJ.com

Where the vehicles that once took people from Point A to Point B go to die.

1. Tollbooth Graveyard

Today, drivers zipping up and down the turnpikes of 14 eastern U.S. states can use EZ Pass to pay tolls electronically rather than stopping at the booth to count out exact change. The program has been a godsend for commuters, but raised the death toll for toll booths.

With so many people paying by EZ Pass, states like New Jersey need many fewer booths along their many miles of highway. A batch of those obsolete compartments has found a retirement home in the maintenance area of the Garden State Parkway near the Asbury Park Toll Plaza (yes, that Asbury Park). Call it New Jersey’s tollboth graveyard. The green paint on 30-plus booths slowly decays as they stand sentinel by the side of the road, just waiting for the digital system to falter so they can get back in the game.

2. Graveyard of the Atlantic

Courtesy of NOAA

Humanity has been plying the seas for thousands of years. We haven’t always been doing it successfully. The seafloors around the world are littered with millions of shipwrecks large and small, experts estimate, but of course some waters are more treacherous than others.

Notoriously treacherous waters lie off the coast of North Carolina and Virginia. So many ships have been lost there that the area is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic and is home to a museum commemorating these maritime disasters. Thousands of ships have sunk in this area where the cold waters of the Labrador Current coming down from Canada clash with warmer waters from the Gulf of Mexico and stir up choppy, unpredictable seas.

Among the more interesting artifacts in the museum: the enigma machine from a German U-boat that met its end off North Carolina in 1942.

3. Subway Reefs

Courtesy of Fast Co.Design

Fish love the subway. At least, they love subway cars.

When some trains reach the end of their useful lives running on the New York City subway lines, the Metropolitan Transit Authority dumps them into the ocean. This is not an exercise in wanton pollution, but rather part of an intentional effort to create habitat for fish. These retired commuter carriers become artificial reefs, their cramped, graffiti-tagged quarters providing the kind of textured, multidimensional habitat that sea creatures crave, and that comes in short supply in the smooth seafloor off New York and New Jersey.

The MTA isn’t alone in the idea to entice fish to come and live in the relics of industry. The U.S. Navy has sunk old warships off the Florida coast for the same reason. The bones of the old Cleveland Browns Stadium sit at the bottom of Lake Erie, hoping to entice fish. (Hopefully those fish aren't Steelers fans.)

4. Space Junk

Courtesy of Wired

The Apollo capsules that carried astronauts to the moon are in museums today. The rovers they drove are stranded on the lunar surface, making the moon itself a transportation graveyard. (Robotic Russian rovers are up there, too.) The big boys that did the heavy lifting met a less glamorous end: Some of the F-1 engines from the monumental Saturn V rockets that blasted Apollo into orbit fell into the sea not far from NASA’s Cape Canaveral launch site, and there they have sat for four decades, decaying underwater in a heap of mangled metal.

And then Jeff Bezos came to the rescue. Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, used his Amazon millions to fund the private space firm Blue Origin, but that isn’t his only foray into space tech. He also funded an effort to retrieve the Apollo engines from the sea bottom, which his team achieved earlier this year.

5. The Tank Cemetery

Courtesy of ArtificialOwl

The nation of Eritrea lies along the Red Sea, just to the north of Ethiopia. When the Italians who colonized the area left following World War II, Eritrea became part of a political federation with Ethiopia, an arrangement that led to three decades of warfare, finally leading to Eritrean Independence in the early ‘90s. The graveyard of tanks, trucks, and other military machinery located near Asmara is a grim reminder.

6. Train Cemetery

Courtesy of Atlas Obscura

They’ve been parked here since the 1940s: Trains bound for nowhere, their locomotives rusting to a red-orange that complements the desolate scenery as the salt winds of the South American plains batter them year after year. Uyumi, in southern Bolivia near Chile and Argentina, was once a hub for the rail lines that connected the mines to the major cities. When the mining industry fell apart, people simply abandoned many of these trains to wither in the wind and suffer the indignities of vandalism. Today tour groups visit the train boneyard to pay homage.

7. Carhenge/Cadillac Ranch

Courtesy of KnackStudios

You don’t need to look too hard in America to find jaw-dropping collections of junk cars. In just one example from a couple years ago, Jalopnik found a junkyard with more than a thousand classic cars rotting into the Earth.

It takes something special to get noticed, then—something like turning old cars into an oversized work of post-industrial art. The famous Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, Texas, is made of a series of Caddys made between 1949 and 1963, half-buried into the ground. Carhenge, found in a lonesome stretch of the Sand Hills near Alliance, Neb., consists of 38 cars arrayed in a layout mimicking Stonehenge (its current state, that is, not what it presumably looked like in its heyday). America is dotted with dozens of replica Stonehenges, but only Carhenge gets mystical in such an automotive way.

8. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona

The Arizona desert, with its dry air and alkaline soil, was made for preservation. It’s the reason the U.S. Air Force made David-Monthan AFB, found in a far-flung locale not far from the Mexican border, the resting place for its retired aircraft.

Officially, the guys here in charge of planes out to pasture are called the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG). Simply, they run the aircraft boneyard. More than 4000 old planes live out their retirement years at this base, staying young in the Southwestern sun in case the Air Force decides it needs to cannibalize parts for some greater purpose, sell the planes whole, or bring them back into service. For some tenants, then, a return to glory isn’t out of the question.

9. Fietsdepot, Amsterdam

Courtesy of Shift

If you leave a bike chained to the wrong post in Amsterdam and the police take it away, not to worry. It probably ended up here at Fietsdepot, the city’s bicycle depository. Yes, so many people bike in Amsterdam that the Dutch have a sprawling cycle impound lot. Just 10 euros will get your beloved bike out of impound. While you’re here, gaze upon the multitude of two-wheelers and weep for those whose owners will never come.

10. Sunray Bugs

For years, Leroy “Corky” Yeager ran Sunray Bugs from his property near Dade City, Fla., and reportedly kept 800 Volkswagens of varying models in his VW graveyard, awaiting restoration or to be sold for parts. But, while Yeager’s auto shop was zoned for commercial use, it turned out that the greater part of his land was not. When a neighbor whined to the county that this library of automotive history was an eyesore, the county discovered the paperwork irregularity, and Corky’s Volkswagens had to go. He and his employees had to clear them out by February 2012.

That’s not the end of the story, though, as the Tampa Bay Times’ Lee Logan reported last fall. Before the VWs vanished, Yeager and his team stripped the parts from as many as they possibly could. Disappointed in the county’s ruling but undeterred, Yeager kept Sunray open and still ships those vintage VW parts.

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May 20, 2013 - 8:00pm
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